In primary schools, the emphasis of learning is on acquiring literacy and numeracy skills; the primary curriculum is a means to that end. But by the time pupils reach secondary school, the focus has changed, shifting towards subject knowledge. For pupils with dyslexia, this shift can be hard to manage.
If pupils diagnosed with dyslexia are to survive in the subject-orientated classroom then teaching assistants must increasingly take on the literacy role. And with new examination systems having made literacy demands even higher, sometimes the only way a dyslexic learner can demonstrate their knowledge is with the aid of a reader and scribe.
The structure and organisation of secondary schools means that specialist dyslexia teaching is more difficult to allocate and timetable than it is in primary schools. It is not surprising, then, that there is a shift towards support in the classroom and away from teaching literacy. Given these constraints, what can practically be done to help dyslexics in secondary school?
Although there is no quick fix or perfect intervention, the aim should be to promote an independent learner who will be able to continue their education throughout secondary and beyond.
The building blocks of language
Subject-specific words should be taught before they are used in lessons, so they can be identified in the text and read and understood in their context. At the same time, it is important not to lose sight of the sentence. Without sentences, paragraphs are impossible, and without paragraphs, prose cannot be structured.
In some situations a pupil may still need a scribe to allow them to fully express their knowledge in the time constraints. However, the skill of writing needs to continue to be taught and developed. The most frustrated dyslexics often resent the level of written language they are forced to use because it does not reflect their intellect.
Foundations for success
Rather than doing the writing for them, time should be spent creating frameworks for pupils with dyslexia to work in. Creating routines for working will be crucial for their future. Teaching assistants become very important in this process and the best are always trying to promote independence.
Dyslexic learners need external structure and organisation to cope with timetabling, homework and the competing demands of different subjects – but the aim should always be to set them up to be able to work alone. Producing worksheets with bullet points or having lists on the board will help them to keep track of sequences of instructions. In this case, the teaching assistant’s role is to keep the pupil focussed on the strategy, not to remember what to do for them.
It is easy to fall into the trap of doing things for pupils that they are capable of doing themselves. But this means we are effectively training students to only work if the TA is sat next to them. Instead, we must try to reduce the isolation of pupils with dyslexia from the teacher and from peers by equipping them with the strategies that will allow them to fully participate in their new secondary environment.
Dr Daryl Brown is headteacher at the Maple Hayes Dyslexia School in Staffordshire.
The 1 July issue of TES is a transition special, with 18 pages of analysis, discussion and tips around the issue of transition from primary to secondary education. The magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here